Broken Glasses

The nose pad on my glasses snapped off as I left Loganberry Books. I was vastly grateful they didn’t break while I was standing there reading from my new book. Now my glasses sat at a crooked angle and the world took on a sickening migraine-ish skew. I’m unable see much without them, although I’ve given that a try in the past.

When I was around 10 years old, I started getting answers marked wrong on my math homework. “Careless” the teacher would scrawl in red ink. Even when my parents checked and found every calculation correct, the next day many were marked wrong. No one seemed to notice I was incorrectly copying problems from the board. To the nearsighted, 7 looks quite a bit like 1, 4 looks quite a bit like 9, most numbers waver in a fog.

One awful afternoon I was demoted from the top math group to the middle math group. This meant walking across the hall from Mrs. Simoni’s class to Mrs. Goodrich’s class. The hall was quiet. Our janitor swirled a long shaggy dust mop across the floor. I wanted to take over floor swiping. Let him walk into the classroom where every face would turn to look, let him figure out how right answers became wrong.

Thankfully, Mrs. Goodrich figured out my vision was the issue and my mother took me to get glasses. The process was new to me. Drops blurring my vision. A doctor clicking neat circular lenses over my eyes, asking “this one or this one” as he hurried through a sequence to make the eye chart come into focus. Trying on the inexpensive plastic frames my mother steered me to, their price still making me gulp in discomfort at costing my parents so much.

I wore those glasses for the first time as we drove home. I was astonished. I could see expressions on people’s faces in the street! I had no idea that was possible except when up close. I could see individual leaves on trees! The whole ride I sat transfixed, watching miracles scroll past the window.

Those glasses fixed my visual problems. But by sixth grade, the plastic frames became a severe social liability. I was outgrowing them and needed new lenses anyway, but asking for something expensive like stylish frames was Not Done in our family. I asked anyway. I wanted wire rimmed glasses, the ones everyone even remotely cool wore in 1972. My mother said only hippies wore those frames and she wasn’t paying extra to make other people think differently about me. I wheedled. I begged. Finally she said if I could find a picture of even one respectable person wearing wire rimmed glasses she’d consider it. I found a picture of presidential candidate George McGovern wearing them. She said that didn’t count, she didn’t consider him respectable.

I prevailed, eventually getting new glasses. I felt cool in them for a whole day, maybe two. Then my skin reacted to the metal. Red bumps formed everywhere the metal touched —- over my nose and along my cheeks. The bumps swelled, itched, and burst like gooey blisters. Putting the glasses on over my broken skin burned. I tried all sorts of remedies — coating the metal with clear nail polish and coating my skin with various concoctions, from Vaseline to cortisone cream. Nothing helped. So at home I folded toilet paper strips to make a barrier between my skin and the metal. My family got used to seeing me with paper along my nose. I got so used to it that I often forgot how strange I looked, only to be reminded when my siblings had friends over or when I answered the door for a delivery. Sometimes, if I didn’t have to go anywhere for a few days, the red oozy bumps on my face nearly healed. But the world doesn’t allow kids to retreat, even bookish hermits who don’t mind being hermits

13 and not wearing glasses…

By the time I was 13, I’d largely stopped wearing my glasses in public, even though I could barely see much more than a foot in front of me. A metal allergy surely wasn’t my only reason. I was insecure and probably hoped I’d be faintly more popular without glasses. I can only imagine how stuck up I must have actually seemed, ignoring peers because I couldn’t see them… And the year I turned 13 was also the year I was assaulted by a friend’s father. Maybe I didn’t want to see men seeing me.

But without vision correction, I was legally blind.

This created all sorts of complications, mostly in the social realm. For example, I kept a vaguely friendly expression on my face as I walked to and from school, because the blobs in front of me might resolve into street signs and fire hydrants, or they might resolve into people. I had to get close enough to find out.

The cute high school guy I started dating when I was 14 surely must have thought I didn’t have much brainpower. One of the first times we went out to eat I picked up a piece of lettuce that had fallen from my salad. He stopped me before I put it in my mouth. It was his crumpled up straw paper. Another time we went to his house. Across the room was a new frame with three ovals inside. I assumed they were portraits of the family’s three offspring. “Oh,” I said cheerfully to his mother, “new family pictures!” Nope, it was a barometer.

I couldn’t see, he overlooked a lot. I ended up marrying that cute guy. (By then I was back to wearing non-allergenic glasses.)

All these years later that guy, after my poetry reading, carefully fashioned something out of medical tape and gauze to hold my glasses level so I could read. (Because he knows I must read.)

And the next morning he hurried my broken frames to The Eyeglass Hospital, the only place in the Cleveland area that welds tiny titanium eyeglass pieces back together.  When he returned and handed over my glasses, I could see! Leaves on trees, words on pages, and my dear husband’s facial expression.  He was smiling.

17 thoughts on “Broken Glasses

  1. Ah, dear Laura Grace, a story another glasses wearer can so relate to! I was in the fifth grade when I couldn’t read the board either – being one of the two tallest girls in the class (another life-long scar, but another story), I was always placed in the back. My teacher at one point took off her old lady glasses and held them out to me, in a not very kind way, and said “Here, maybe these will help.” I was mortified. And then the search for glasses, back in 1959, to find something affordable yet did not make me feel more ugly duckling than I already did. And being so nearsighted, how in the world could I tell what anything looked like! And it was my dad who took me, Mr. Swedish Practical, not about looks. I spent years not wearing my glasses either, throughout high school, trying to recognize people by their shapes and manner of walking. My first summer job at 18, my entire paycheck went to buying contact lenses, which I never could adjust too, kept losing, and with my red eyes, either looked like I was suffering from severe allergies or doing drugs. I finally gave up, glasses got more trendy and I got older and wiser, caring more about comfort and being able to see. To this day, I suffer from fogging up glasses slipping down my nose and feeling in the heat like I live my life behind a shower curtain. I always thought as a near-sighted soul, as I aged and most friends needed reading glasses that I would finally be glasses-free! Hah! Progressives now. Thanks for an opportunity to share my own story and for the so sweet arc of yours – lucky husband, lucky you!

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    • Our stories are so similar! I know what you mean by recognizing people by their shape and manner of walking (voice from a distance helped too). I tried contacts too, and managed to wear soft lenses on and off, but was always terrified putting them in and more terrified taking them out. I’m glad to wear glasses — anything to see!

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  2. Yeegads, I had a metal allergy too but it wasn’t glasses, it was necklaces that caused a bumpy red nasty rash. (I did wear geeky plastic glasses by 5th grade. I still have them!)) How did we ever survive our childhood? You are so friggin adorable…and your husband is a keeper!

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        • My metal allergies are so ridiculous that I haven’t been able to wear earrings since I was a teenager and jeans still wreck me because I can’t handle body exposure to riveted snaps. “Get over it,” I tell myself, as I do with food intolerances and pollen allergies, “this is the planet you live on. Stop overreacting.” My overreactions get all nasty and overreact more. Clearly I need better communication skills with the body I’ve chosen to live in….

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  3. My problems went the other way. My distance vision was acute, I could read signs and car number plates, billboard text and shopfronts from distances where they were barely visible to others, but books started to become a problem when I was about 14. My mother was a glasses wearer and understanding about frames so I was lucky to score the John Lennon wire frames first time. Those glasses lasted me until I was into my 30s, when slowly but surely the prescription climbed every year. At 45, I started to need progressives. At 58, I’m waiting for the vision plateau my optometrist promises me will arrive soon. Meanwhile, having found big frames I like, I’ll keep them and just update the lenses. I always keep the previous glasses in case of accidents; older ones get donated for charity.

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    • The perfect solution 🙂
      Speaking of reading aloud; it’s something I recommend to young friends and family who have never developed the habit of reading. Listening to stories or topics of interest does, I think, develop a hunger for more, and reading aloud to others develops a skill for interpretation of the written word over and above just ploughing through the information it contains. Other family don’t agree, they think it makes the children lazy to listen and they don’t have the patience to listen themselves while the children initially stumble through demanding text. What do you think?

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      • I completely agree with you. I’m horrified to think adults judge reading aloud as somehow less valuable (i.e. less work?) than silent reading. Being read to, reading to others, and listening to audiobooks are all wonderful, vital ways to nurture a love of reading.

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  4. Hi Laura! Even though your story had some sad moments in it, the fact that your husband was such a sweet heart and still is makes me smile from ear to ear. As they say love is lovely. Thanks again for another wonderful blog post.

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  5. Laura, You almost had me in tears when I read this earlier today. I wore glasses from the age of 14, having gradually worked my way from sitting at the back of the class to the front. Next stop, the optician. I wore hideous plastic horn-rimmed things (in the mid 1980s!). The same year that I started wearing glasses I had a bad fall off my bike, riding home from school one day (unconnected to the glasses…my cousin and I were giggling as we rode along, wobbled, locked handlebars, her bike swerved onto the grassy verge and I careened out onto the road), and lost one of my front teeth. The temporary crown I wore for years was yellow-ish, and between crown, glasses and being about 20 pounds overweight I was a very self-conscious teenager and young adult. On the surface, I was very outgoing and confident, but inside I was mortified by how I looked.

    These days I still wear glasses (though not plastic or horn-rimmed), still have a crown (though one better matched to my own teeth) and I’m still 20 pounds overweight (and still vowing to lose it). I got over being mortified about how I look years ago. I look like my mother and aunts and grandmother, and that’s fine by me, because I like those women…a lot.

    Growing up is tough enough, and I guess everyone thinks they look weird and odd. My own daughters who, in almost every other way look like their dad, have inherited my blue eyes. I keep hoping they’ve inherited their dad’s eyesight and not mine!
    x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Martina, I think you’ve hit on it. All kids probably suffer from thinking they look awful.

      You and I also share a tooth thing. My experience isn’t quite the same. I jumped off a roof. Not as bad as it sounds, a friend and I jumped off the low end of a shed-roofed garage into a pile of leaves we’d raked. It should have simply been a valuable lesson that even a big pile of leaves doesn’t make a good cushion. Unfortunately we left the rake under in the pile. I managed to chip both my front teeth on the metal rake tines. My teeth remained chipped until I grew up and got dental insurance to fix them. The fix was some kind of bonding agent which was used to re-form my chipped teeth and painted over my eight visible top teeth. Now that material has yellowed significantly. But as you say, “I got over being mortified about how I look years ago.” There’s freedom in that isn’t there?

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